It’s back! The single greatest horror film of all time, The Exorcist, is back where it belongs: on a movie screen for the two or three generations that have not had the chance to experience all the thrills, chills and drama the proper way (myself included). As with any reissue of a classic film, the movie has undergone some tweaking, which (just like the 1997 reissue of the Star Wars trilogy) has both pros and cons.
I won’t bother going into details about the plot (if you don’t know what it’s about by now, you really need to get out more), but I will state that it is a true testament to the magnificence of this film in terms of how much it has stood the test of time. While some of the clothes and mannerisms seem dated, the incredible power of its story has not. Neither has the superb acting from Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow. Thanks to William Peter Blatty’s multi-layered screenplay, the cast manages to fall so far into their characters that you don’t feel you are watching a movie. You almost feel like you are watching a documentary, which brings a heady degree of realism to a story few would sanely consider the stuff of fact (although, as most of us know, the story was based on an actual exorcism conducted in the late 1940’s).
Aside from the acting and overall tone of the movie, I believe that that it is the underlying theme of faith that makes The Exorcist so unique. The main characters (with the exception of 12-year old Regan) each have a test of faith brought before them here: with Father Karras, it is whether or not he is cut out to be a priest. With Chris MacNeill, Regan’s mother, it is whether or not she believes that there is a God, and if there were, why would it allow an innocent girl, her beloved daughter, become possessed?
Blatty, along with director William Friedkin, take their time examining each of the characters and allow their conflicts to develop and play themselves out amidst the sound and fury of the film’s third act, the actual exorcism (which, despite being parodied endlessly, still has what it takes to scare the living daylights out of the viewer).
So, why tinker with something that many (myself included), considered perfect? If you were William Peter Blatty, you would say that the film was not exactly “perfect” in its 1973 version. This new version, which runs approximately eleven minutes longer, is what Blatty had in mind as the definitive cut of the movie. For the most part, the new scenes are quite decent, mostly of the dialogue department. While these scenes are decent, they do not really add anything of relevance and serve mostly as mere extensions of scenes that already were effective on their own merit.
However, there are two scenes that do stand out, both for the better and for the worse. The best of the new additions is a short scene that long-standing fans of the movie have labeled “The Spider Walk” in which Regan, bent over backwards while spewing blood from her mouth, crawls down the stairs like, you got it, a spider, and attacks her mother. If this doesn’t freak you out, nothing will.
The worst addition to the film lies in the elongated ending of the movie, one that ever so slightly lessens the tension and overall impact of the film’s conclusion. The ending of the 1973 version left you stunned, still on that horrific high that the third act had served us. This new edition, once again put back into the film at the behest of Mr. Blatty, lessens the impact by having a short comic interlude between Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer. Not only does this extended scene dilute the wonderful atmosphere Friedkin had been working on for two hours to build, it also insults the audience. We know that good has triumphed over evil by watching the conclusion of the third act. We don’t need it repeated to us in a rambling final scene that should have remained a deleted scene on a home video release supplemental section.
Despite this change and a few others (additions of one too many new music cues and digital effects thrown in here and there to clutter up the screen), the stuff that makes the movie still stand at the top of the horror genre mountain after nearly three decades is still here. This is a horror movie with heart, soul and a brain. The Exorcist is a wonderful meditation on faith and how belief in faith can conquer any and all evil. It is also one incredibly scary movie, one that still manages to give me nightmares even after three decades.